People often ask me what made me decide to become a doula and childbirth mentor, after teaching Spanish for so many years. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that the reason I started doing birth work is not the reason I am doing it now. I started for the wrong reasons.
After my second child was born, I wanted to help other women prepare for birth as I had, and have the birth experience I had. I remember with regret, the conversation I had with a friend that had called me, seeking childbirth advice. I offered her a big slice of what is called in Birthing From Within, “Birth Pie.” That is, if you follow my recipe exactly, look at this beautiful thing you’ll get! When her baby was born by Cesarean she was devastated. I was confused and felt I’d failed her. What had gone wrong? Did I give the wrong recipe? Did she not follow the steps? Who was to blame? And if there was no magic recipe, what was the point of helping women prepare for childbirth? One of the reasons I had switched from academic teaching to childbirth mentoring was to teach without the focus on tests and grades, without a pass/fail system. But in this way of thinking about birth, there was definitely a grading scale and the goal was for the student to get an A.
I had prepared for my first birth with a method that implied a promise that birth would be peaceful and painless. Unfortunately, it “worked” for me. I say unfortunately because it is a very dangerous thing to believe that you have the magic recipe for birth. It perpetuates Birth Pride and Birth Shame. It keeps people outcome-focused. It stifles deeper exploration of the complexity and richness of birth. The unfolding of each birth is influenced by countless factors, many of which will always remain a mystery. Unless there is some disconnect between beliefs and experience, causing a need to search for meaning, growth does not happen. And if a teacher has not gone through the process of true learning, how can she teach? Fortunately, the tension between outcome-focused childbirth preparation and the unpredictable nature of birth became too great for me, and my own learning began.
Years ago, when I was still teaching Spanish, a student of mine who was writing a paper on natural birth came to interview me. She asked me, “Why should women prepare for natural birth?” I’m not sure what I said at the time, but this is what I would say now. Preparing for natural birth is a lot of work. It means getting to know yourself and your stories about yourself, becoming familiar with the ways that you engage with the uncomfortable and the unexpected, examining how you cope with uncertainty, asking yourself, “What do I do when I don’t know what to do?” No matter how your birth unfolds, this kind of preparation will serve you. Because it is also preparation for birthing with an epidural, for birthing through unexpected complications, for giving birth by Cesarean, and for parenting. And so, even if you know you will have a medicated or surgical birth, whether by preference or by necessity, doing this work will serve you. I don’t consider this to be natural birth preparation. It is aware birth preparation. When you prepare to give birth in awareness, there is no grading scale, no pass/fail!
Why do I do this work now? Becoming a parent is a time when great love and intense challenges come together. It brings about changes in self-image, identity, priorities, and relationships. It brings to light old fears and creates new ones never before experienced. My intention is to offer parents the tools and the clarity to navigate these experiences. My hope is that each parent comes away from their birth experience with a more open heart. Each parent is on their own personal journey for their own reasons and with their own goals. I’m their sherpa. I know the terrain and what might come up at different landmarks, but I follow, rather than lead. I share what I observe. I carry a pack full of tools - questions, stories, maps - to be used if needed. Every couple that I walk with teaches me so much, invites me down new paths. I do this because I love the journey.
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.